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Water Pollution Prevention News

Drones spot abstractions, Devon water pollution, wild swimming woes.

Water abstraction is the process of taking water from a natural source and using it for drinking, irrigation, and industry. It frequently happens illegally in the UK, and in East Anglia, the Environment Agency is using drones to spot unauthorised abstractions. There’s been a really nasty fish-killing water pollution incident in Devon, and another in Somerset. And if you’re into wild swimming or even just enjoy a summer dip in your local river with the kids, you need to know the risks: most of our waterways are dangerously dirty, muckier than ever. Here is the water pollution prevention news.

Environment Agency to use drones to help fight water theft

Water is essential for so many things, and it’s sometimes taken from natural watercourses like rivers and lakes. The Environment Agency manages these ‘abstractions’ and does its best to balance the needs of the environment with the rights of the people who use it.

Every irrigation season sees the Environment Agency carrying out high visibility patrols to stop landowners and farmers breaking the terms of their environmental permit licenses. The 2018 summer heatwave saw several licence holders breaching their conditions, and 2019 has already seen plenty of illegal abstractions.

The 2019 spring rainfall was less than average and we haven’t received the amount of rain we’d usually see since then. This, along with the hot summer of 2018, is putting significant pressure on the water environment. This means restrictions on abstractions are being kept in place for the summer, and this year, for the first time the Environment Agency is using drones to spot the baddies.

In 2018 a few sinners – a minority of farmers – took water illegally and ‘severely restricted other people’s ability to irrigate their crops’. Now a third party drone operator will be employed to take images in East Anglia so Environment Agency members can pin down illegal abstractions. If you spot a dodgy-looking abstraction yourself, you can report it directly via the Environment Agency hotline on 0800 807060.

South Molton in Devon suffers a mysterious mass fish death

Spill containment is in the news yet again as more than 6,000 fish die in a mystery pollution incident in South Molton, Devon. The Environment Agency says that the scale of the incident – at the River Mole – is a lot more serious than they originally thought. At least 6000 brown trout, sea trout, salmon, bullhead and eels were killed by the 3km-long stretch of polluted water, already fast becoming “the largest ever fish kill in Devon and Cornwall”.

One of the fisheries officers at the scene said in 30 years doing the job he’d never seen so many fish die in one incident. Environment Agency officers are taking biological samples and carrying out more checks to pin down the source of the industrial pollution.

At the same time, thousands of fish died after a mystery source polluted a 9.3 mile area of the River Sheppey in Somerset. The Environment Agency has tracked the pollution to a likely source and are working hard to protect the lower end of the river. Sadly it is too late, the spill is likely to have killed ‘thousands of fish and invertebrates’.

England’s waterways are more polluted than ever

As reported by The Times, pollutants in England’s waterways are at the highest level since modern testing began. Now there isn’t a river in the land that’s certified as safe for swimmers, and it’s affecting the nation’s tens of thousands of keen wild swimmers, who love to peacefully swim our rivers and lakes.

A Times newspaper investigation reveals how 86% of English rivers don’t reach the EU’s ecological standard, the minimum standard for healthy waterways. Ten years ago the figure stood at 75%.

It also looks like at least 50% of the stretches of river monitored by the Environment Agency exceeded legal limits of at least one hazardous pollutant in 2018. At the same time prosecutions against regional water companies have dropped from thirty in 2014 to just three in 2018. Sometimes the Agency even lets polluters suggest their seeing regular fines as merely part of the everyday cost of doing business.

Last month Southern Water was fined £127M for ‘shocking’ breaches that let raw sewage loose to pollute rivers and beaches. If this is the kind of incident we’re going to see more of in the future, we’re in really deep trouble. At the same time the public isn’t aware of how filthy our waterways really are. In Ilkley, West Yorkshire, sewage outflows upstream probably allowed raw waste into the water after thunderstorms. Toxic metals like lead are common in our rivers, as are insecticides, and both frequently exceed the legal limits. Worse still safe limits for nasties like cadmium — a carcinogen – have been broken around 1,200 times in the last two years.

We’ll help you achieve your environmental permits and more.

The last thing you want, as a decent citizen, is to play a part in the unfolding disaster that’s blighting our waterways. We can help you get clean, stay clean, and remain legal.

David Cole MSEE

David Cole MSEE

Technical Director

David is a pioneer of the spill containment and water pollution prevention industry with 30 years experience. He was instrumental in the development of CIRIA736 with The Environment Agency and is passionate about preventing water pollution.

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